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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Experimental evolution reveals nitrate tolerance mechanisms in Desulfovibrio vulgaris


Elevated nitrate in the environment inhibits sulfate reduction by important microorganisms of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB). Several SRB may respire nitrate to survive under elevated nitrate, but how SRB that lack nitrate reductase survive to elevated nitrate remains elusive. To understand nitrate adaptation mechanisms, we evolved 12 populations of a model SRB (i.e., Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hildenborough, DvH) under elevated NaNO3 for 1000 generations, analyzed growth and acquired mutations, and linked their genotypes with phenotypes. Nitrate-evolved (EN) populations significantly (p < 0.05) increased nitrate tolerance, and whole-genome resequencing identified 119 new mutations in 44 genes of 12 EN populations, among which six functional gene groups were discovered with high mutation frequencies at the population level. We observed a high frequency of nonsense or frameshift mutations in nitrosative stress response genes (NSR: DVU2543, DVU2547, and DVU2548), nitrogen regulatory protein C family genes (NRC: DVU2394-2396, DVU2402, and DVU2405), and nitrate cluster (DVU0246-0249 and DVU0251). Mutagenesis analysis confirmed that loss-of-functions of NRC and NSR increased nitrate tolerance. Also, functional gene groups involved in fatty acid synthesis, iron regulation, and two-component system (LytR/LytS) known to be responsive to multiple stresses, had a high frequency of missense mutations. Mutations in those gene groups could increase nitrate tolerance through regulating energy metabolism, barring entry of nitrate into cells, altering cell membrane characteristics, or conferring growth advantages at the stationary phase. This study advances our understanding of nitrate tolerance mechanisms and has important implications for linking genotypes with phenotypes in DvH.

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